Another pedestrian struck on South Dakota highlights the need for serious changes to the status quo in street safety in 5A

Last night, I spoke at the North Michigan Park Civic Association monthly meeting and spoke briefly about my background and priorities if elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for 5A09.

Just before I started speaking, while I was going over the details of traffic safety I wanted to touch on for the group in my head, I received a notification on my phone that yet another pedestrian had been struck on South Dakota Avenue NE, this particular time within sight of my apartment. This was just one block away from where a senior woman was killed while crossing this dangerous road within the past year, also within sight of my building. While I was going over my plans for traffic safety with the civic association members over Zoom, just feet away behind me police and an ambulance were on the scene helping a pedestrian who had been hit by a car on the very road that I was discussing as being unsafe.

My apartment looks out directly onto South Dakota, and I spend all day watching some of the worst, most dangerous driving I have ever seen play out before my eyes on this road. South Dakota is designed like a highway, barreling through residential communities — all to allow people who, largely speaking, live outside of the communities they’re racing through, to not be inconvenienced by having to drive safely. People routinely run the red lights through this stretch, virtually every car driving by is speeding, drivers frequently completely ignore the HAWK signal intended to help pedestrians cross, and there is just generally all-around awful driver behavior on display 24/7. The data supports this anecdotal evidence: From 2010 to 2021, there were 177 serious car crashes along the stretch of South Dakota Ave NE in the new 5A09 (serious crashes means crashes that required a police or EMT presence and for which a police report of some kind was filed – this does not include the much more common occurrence of fender benders or other accidents that for whatever reason did not require a police report). That is excessively and unacceptably high, particularly for a road that is almost entirely located in otherwise quiet residential areas.

All of the above horrible driver behavior, vehicle crashes, and road fatalities are because the road is designed to encourage this type of driving. The only way to truly fix this long-term is to redesign the road to calm traffic — this means things like removing vehicle lanes, adding protected bike lanes (already identified by DDOT as necessary going back to at least 2015 if not earlier) and bus lanes, extending the sidewalk by adding bulb-outs and pedestrian islands for people crossing the street, physical medians to prevent cars from crossing the double yellow lines, and other physical infrastructure changes. All of these sorts of design changes have been shown time and time again in traffic safety studies to significantly improve the safety of a road for all road users, whether on foot, on a bike, or in a car.

Without this sort of redesign, everything else will just be a bandaid on the issue and won’t fully fix the problem. I will push DDOT for a redesign of South Dakota, but I’m frankly doubtful that they will acquiesce on this as the design would be costly and, because of DC government rules, may require buy-in from numerous groups stretching the entire length of the road throughout Ward 5. This means that things like speed and red light cameras are probably, short-term our best bet to try to get some of the worst driving under control.

As ANC, I will push DDOT relentlessly at every available opportunity on the issue of road safety. I am deeply passionate about this issue, and it is extremely personal for me. I have personally been hit by poorly driven cars on no less than three occasions in DC, and one of my close friends in college was killed while crossing the street — I was a pall bearer in his funeral. My goal is no less than the end of deaths and serious injuries to traffic violence in the District of Columbia. Making traffic safety a reality in DC in general and 5A09 specifically is the reason why I am running for ANC. We’re a long way off from that, but I hope to make a serious dent in those numbers in our small part of DC.

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